The Causten family resided in Baltimore, Maryland, where they owned and operated a merchant house. Baltimore had established itself as one of the colony's major sea ports by the time of the Revolution, serving as a trading center for the export of corn and tobacco to England and the West Indies. After the war Britain insisted on retaining the right to control the trade between North America and the West Indies, requiring that an enumerated list of goods only be transported on British ships. The economic hardships caused by this policy on American merchants led them to return to their pre-Revolutionary practices of smuggling and bribery.
The father, Isaac, and two of his sons, Joseph and James, often accompanied the schooners owned by the merchant house on their voyages; their correspondence details their experiences at ports in South America and the West Indies. One son, Joseph, would enlist in the U.S. Navy serving as a purser aboard the U.S.S. 'Constellation' and 'Enterprise' during the War of 1812. Assigned to serve aboard the U.S.S. frigate 'Constellation' for the duration of the war, neither Joseph nor the crew would see actio. The ship never left its port in Norfolk, Viriginia, because of the British blockade. Joseph remained with the navy after the war, being present for what historians have referred to as the Navy's period of professionalization.
In the aftermath of the Tripolitan War and the War of 1812, the U.S. government was brought to the realization that a significantly strengthened navy was necessary to protect U.S. shipping interests both at home and abroad. In response to these needs, two squadrons placed under the commands of Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur were formed for the purpose of protecting U.S. merchant ships in the waters of the Mediterranean, particularly in the region of the Barbary coast. The frigate U.S.S. 'Contellation' was assigned to Commodore Decatur's squadron. In February 1815, President James Madison sent this squadron to confront the Algerian navy after Congress had declared war on the powerful Barbary coast nation for its attacks on U.S. merchant ships. After a quick and decisive battle between the two maritime nations, Decatur's squadron emerged victorious, thus ensuring the security of U.S. shipping for that region. Several of Joseph's letters recount his experiences while serving in this squadron, and make reference to the navy's successful, if not controversial, attack on a Turkish ship in 1816.
Further reading: Chapelle, Howard I. and Leon D. Polland, The COnstellation Question (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970) Engle, Elois and Arnold S. Lott. America's Martimie Heritage (ANnapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1975). Fowler, William M., Jr. Jack Tars and Commodores: The American Navy, 1783-1815 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984). Gruppe, Henry E., et al. The Frigates (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1979). Pratt, Fletcher. Preble's Boys: Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1950). Smith, Myron J., Jr. The American Navy 1789-1860: A Bibliography, vol. II (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1974).